Dealing with extended drought conditions can be a daunting affair. Not knowing when a drought will break not only tests farmers, the general community in towns and cities is also affected by subsequent water restrictions and higher food prices. The hobby farmer is mostly insulated from the financial effects of drought since it is not the main source of income. However, personal pride and a desire to see the farm develop, rather than deteriorate into a dry and unappealing place to spend time, is enough incentive to be proactive in the face of drought conditions. Special consideration is also required when farm animals are present. The presence of shelter and ample drinking water is paramount if animals are to be comfortable during hot and dry conditions.
Some tactics I have currently employed on my farm are outlined below. As well, general strategies for the future are also mentioned. When planting young trees and shrubs, ensure the soil is cultivated to reduce competition from weeds growing close to the seedlings. Deep ripping of the planting area also helps any rain to penetrate within the root zone of the seedling.
Combined with heavy mulching around the seedling, it will have a greatly increased chance of surviving. Water storing crystals as well as products that enable water to penetrate water repellant soils are also available. Protection from strong hot winds will also reduce evaporation of moisture from around plants. Polymer films that are sprayed onto leaf surfaces can also be used in order to reduce evaporation from plants.
These synthetic polymers are currently used when transplanting established plants as a measure to reduce transplanting shock. Established plants may need to be pruned in order to reduce the level of transpiration from leaf surfaces. Young fruiting trees should have any fruit removed and not be fed with fertilizers which encourage tender growth. Fertilizers containing high levels of nitrogen should be used sparingly; however, a balanced fertilizer at the correct time-usually spring and autumn may be used with care. Foliar sprays extracted from an organic source such as seaweed are useful as they contain a range of micronutrients that strengthen plant cells.
Plants treated in this manner are better suited to survive extreme conditions as the cell walls within plant tissues become thicker and stronger. Long- term climatic trends are hard to predict, however, consideration needs to be given to issues such as climate change. I have planted native windbreak trees that generally have a lower rainfall requirement than currently received in our region. Should there be a general term trend towards reduced rainfall these plants once established should cope well. In the event of increased rainfall over subsequent seasons after a drought however, there may be problems due to an excess of water given that these types of plantings are normally suited to dry or very well drained soils.
Selecting vegetable crops that have a shorter growing season, often the case with dwarf varieties will save on precious water. Ensuring the soil is well managed and carefully cultivated in order to protect its structure will allow plant root systems to become quickly established. Long term plantings such as fruiting trees and palms need to be carefully reviewed and not planted until conditions improve. In extreme cases some plants will need to be sacrificed. More common plants and those that can be easily and quickly replaced may need to be removed in order to reduce competition for water.
The most efficient methods of irrigation that deliver water close to the root system of the remaining plants also needs to be employed. Drought proofing my farm in the long term will also require an effective water harvesting system. Expenditure on tanks and soil contouring in order to channel excess moisture to storage areas will need to occur.
This process will be constrained by the available finances, but should prove worthwhile in the long term.
Ben provides assistance and consultancy to real and virtual estate owners in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. His works include an Australian Hobby Farm. Ben is also in the process of publishing a eBook on hobby farming. We invite you to give your comments and suggestions on farming and gardening at Contact Us